I never expected to see it again, the little cabin on the hidden inlet. So much time has passed, I didn’t remember exactly where it was and how to get to it. After all this time, I imagined it no longer existed. I certainly never expected to see it while driving on an interstate overpass.
Forty years ago I dated a boy named Charlie, who, like most of his friends, was a waiter at the original Ruby Tuesday in Knoxville. His friend, Sandy Beall, had started it, then hired everyone he knew to work there. The boys were waiters by night, UT students by day, some sporadically.
Though we’d been friends in high school, Charlie and I didn’t start dating until we were 20. The romance was short-lived and simply fell away.
I have some good memories, though, and one of them is the little cabin. Mary Pat, my best friend (though at the time our friendship was strained), was dating a boy who lived there. He also worked at Ruby Tuesday. I’d known him since eighth grade, and he and Charlie were good friends.
There was nothing spectacular about the day. It was just a good one. Late spring, warm. Charlie and I went for a ride and decided to stop in at Bobby’s. I’d never been there before, didn’t know it existed. But off Campbell Station Road, which was deep country, there was the cabin and feet away from the cabin was the inlet, some small branch of Lake Loudon, surrounded by trees. It looked like a Thomas Kinkade painting, except better because it was real.
As 20-year-olds will do, I thought if I could live in that cabin on that inlet, I would need nothing else for the rest of my life. It was an absolutely perfect setting.
We all left the cabin and drove to Ott’s Barbecue, at what was then called Dixie Lee Junction. We had lunch, went our separate ways, and that was that. It was the only time I had seen the cabin until two weeks ago.
My friend Patra and I were going to visit a friend in Loudon County, but wanted to stop at Fresh Market to pick up dinner for everyone.
“This is gross,” I said, as we turned onto Pellisippi Parkway and then, I think, I-40. What once were farms and woods now were stores and parking lots.
As we drove across an overpass, I looked to my right, and there was the cabin, isolated among the massive development because of its watery location. The cabin had been gutted by fire. The inlet remained picturesque but out of place amidst a concrete wasteland. The scene was distorted and sad.
I didn’t comment on it. It was the terminal punctuation to our conversation about Knoxville, particularly the lake area, and how it had changed for the worse. Though worse isn’t a strong enough word.
Each generation views the landscape from a different perspective. Only the very young see things exactly as they are. As we age, the past overlays the present so the charred remains of a little cabin crowded by urban sprawl were also whole and new to me, surrounded by nothing but water and trees.
Jan Hearne is the Press Tempo editor. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.